“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.” William Butler Yeats may well never have penned that line as being a deeply divisive literary character it’s unlikely, although he’s credited with it in Ireland and it’s beautiful prose to hitch to a nation that would be tremendous hosts of the next America’s Cup.
Taken aside as I was and into another ‘inner sanctum’ of Cup gossip, the Royal Cork YC, formerly the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork originally sited at Haulbowline Island, and laying claim to the title of the oldest yacht club in the world, is now the neutral venue of choice for the 37th Cup. We’ve been here before but scurrilous rumour is being presented as fact and it’s compelling. The Solent is out of the running apparently – if we’re honest with ourselves it was always bonkers to think it would be a decent venue – and it’s a two-horse race with the Royal Cork ahead by a nose coming into the final furlong.
Great choice if so. The ‘Rebel City’ is a pretty cool place and Ireland is steeped in faded Cup history with names like Shamrock, Valkyrie and Galatea that well emotions of a bygone era when yachts were yachts and the name Harold Cudmore still strikes memories of fear in match-racing circles.
The winter training will be interesting for those teams squeaking by on a budget but no worse than Auckland in the cold months or San Francisco in the summer. The boats will need to be bullet-proof. The sailors will need to be tough. The racing will be sensational. I can see it happening and I can envision a misty-eyed Press Conference with Grant and Jim explaining the compelling natural amphitheatre and the warm welcome guaranteed by the locals – indeed the whole of Ireland. It’s the classy choice. I hope it happens.
If it does, and the Solent misses out, from a personal perspective that’s a shame. This past weekend was Cowes at its finest. The Isle of Wight dinghy championships saw everything from hail and thunder to flat calms and just about everything in between.
Glorious racing, made even better when the Channel Race fleet thundered through on Saturday morning as we gilled about on the buoys off Gurnard. Down at the Squadron, Tom Court was drumming up sponsorship and exposure for his wing foil attempt around the Isle of Wight in aid of Hasag Asbestos Disease Support with some utterly astonishing photos on social media and fully supported by the peerless Island Sailing Club.
For myself, having not competed in a dinghy regatta for the best part of oh…forever, it was great to be back on the water but what really struck me was the camaraderie shoreside, the inclusive nature and the utterly outstanding volunteers that gave up their weekend to make it happen. I’m sure this is replicated up and down the country, and it’s one thing saying it from afar, but when you see it up close it renews your faith in sailing.
As we drifted on an ebb tide on Sunday beneath threatening skies having navigated a rain squall the likes of which you read about in Southern Ocean tomes (!), the sight of a friendly RIB with the words “would you like a tow” are like salvation for a drowning man on a raft. I was busy booking a lobster supper in Yarmouth or seeing if I could cadge a bed for the night at the Needles lighthouse such was the strength of the tide. Thoughts of just how far a Laser could drift backwards in six hours were ever-present and totally over-dramatised but allayed by my friendly inflatable, towing me to the sanctity of the shoreline and a trickle of breeze to complete the journey back to the clubhouse. Thank you.
And with it being the summer holidays, this past week was a festival of sailing for the boy wonder who successfully completed the next stage of his sailing badges at the UK Sailing Academy in Cowes. UKSA is, in my opinion, a right of passage for the South Coast’s youth. It’s a brilliant facility down the Medina in Cowes and the town wouldn’t be the same without the sight of a string of helmet-clad seafarers being towed out to the Shrape in weather that the hardy stay shoreside. I remember the dormitories there as a wide-eyed 14 year old trying 420’s for the very first time and frankly never looked back. I owe the UKSA a tremendous debt.
Today it’s a vibrant place with RS dinghies, Wayfarers, windsurfers, keelboats, navigation classes, powerboat training and even courses that would allow you to steer a supertanker. A more encouraging and vibrant place you couldn’t imagine. It’s the gold standard for teenagers getting into the sport or for those just wishing to progress. Smiles all round, sun-tanned faces, well-used wetsuits and everyday a tale to tell, something learned, and a capsize to forget. Brilliant. And for those with the deep pockets and a charitable foundation they could do far worse than throw a few shekels the way of UKSA as a British institution that puts far more in than it ever takes out.
So Cowes hums now to a different beat. It’s Cowes Week next and the Fastnet after. The heavy machinery starts coming into town soon and the pro-crews descend looking for a decent meal and custom fittings. Be assured, it’s all here. The town is filled with expertise and a new breed of eateries and watering holes cater for even the most discerning palette.
There are no fireworks this year at the regatta but by the looks of things, it’s the sailors who will bring the fire, the fury and the razzmatazz.
The summer in Britain, quite simply, is glorious.